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Review of "Catalyst"

By Laurie Halse Anderson
Viking Childrens Books, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Nov 7th 2002

It's no surprise that Kate Malone is so neurotic.  Her mother died suddenly from pneumonia when Kate was young and her father is a clergyman.  She is a high school senior and she has bet everything on getting into MIT; she didn't even send applications to any other colleges.  She is a grade A geek, seeing everything in terms of Chemistry, which she studies in Advanced Placement classes.  But life is not ready to comply with her expectations and she soon learns that MIT has rejected her.  Things go from bad to worse when her life becomes entwined with Teri Litch's.  Teri goes to the same high school as Kate, but Teri has a bad attitude, getting into fights at school, and stealing Kate's watch.  Teri's mother got hit in the head by her husband and since then she spends most of her time sitting in front of the TV.  But when the Litch's home burns down, the Teri and her little brother Mikey come to live at the Malone's house, because Reverend Malone insists it is the right thing to do.  Kate can't believe that her father is so oblivious to Teri's faults and how bad an idea it is to invite the Litch's into their home.  Teri is completely ungrateful and just makes Kate's life hell.  The only redeeming factor is that young Mikey is very endearing.  But then there is a terrible accident, a tragedy that changes everyone's life.  Eventually, Kate has to completely rethink her outlook and her reaction to Teri. 

Anderson does a good job at showing Kate's internal conflicts and keeps the book going at a fast pace.  Kate has an acerbic wit and is an appealing character, easy to identify with.  The Catalyst embodies the idea of a transforming experience and shows how people can react in terrible grief, often provoked to remember previous losses.  This is a powerful story dealing with troubling emotions, and it is especially good at capturing the frustration of interacting with self-destructive and self-defeating people.  Recommended for teenaged readers.

Samantha Mathis reads the unabridged audiobook very engagingly.


Link: Excerpt from Audiobook


© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.

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